The spring has been a struggle for Georgia junior Kevin Kisner. He felt he wasn't helping his teammates.

He's helping them now. Kisner, the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year, recorded a 5-under 65 to propel the Bulldogs to a five-shot advantage after the opening round of the NCAA golf championship at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md., yesterday. Georgia stands at 6-under 274, with Tennessee at 1-under 279.

Kisner is tied with Major Manning of Augusta State for the individual lead.

"I've worked hard this week," said Kisner, 21, from Aiken, S.C. "I finally started hitting the ball good."

The round could have been lower. Kisner said he missed four putts of 10 feet or less on his opening nine before rallying with four birdies on his back nine. He started to emerge from his slump during last month's East Regional, and showed more encouraging signs during practice rounds Monday and Tuesday.

"I'm looking to play even better tomorrow," said Kisner, who came into the event with a scoring average of 74.64. "I expect to come out here and shoot a 65."

Meantime, UNLV senior Ryan Moore might have to shoot around that figure if he's going to defend his title. Moore, the No. 1 player in college golf who tied for 13th at this year's Masters, finished with a 2-over 72. He got off to a good start, but began to falter with a bogey at 14, his fifth hole of the day.

"It just wasn't a good day," said Moore. "I couldn't get anything going after the first few holes."

At No. 2, a 385-yard par 4, Moore put his approach to within 12 feet, but three-putted.

"I was a little confused about the break," he said, "and forgot about the speed. It happens."

Nonetheless, the Rebels remain within range, 10 strokes behind Georgia. In this kind of event, ground can be made up in a hurry.

"We're capable of putting up a big number," UNLV Coach Dwaine Knight said. "We hung in there when we needed to."

For top-ranked Oklahoma State, however, mounting any kind of comeback will be much more difficult. The Cowboys, who have won seven tournaments this season, could do no better than 12 over.

Yet Coach Mike Holder, who has captured eight national championships in four different decades, remains optimistic.

"There is always tomorrow," he said. "There are three more rounds."

Spencer Levin, the highly regarded University of New Mexico junior, will also hope to turn things around starting today. He, like Moore, shot a 72. The Lobos stand at 9 over.

The tournament, which runs through Saturday, includes 30 teams, and six players whose schools are not competing. There will be a cut after the third round, with the top 15 schools playing the last day. Each team fields five players, and is allowed to drop the highest score.

-- Michael Arkush